I would like to call this post La Vara: The Best Restaurant in New York, but that is probably a bit unfair since I was only there a week. I suppose it is safer to say the best restaurant I ate at in New York, by a long stretch. A small space on a quiet leafy street of brownstones in Cobble Hill, it is a relatively new opening serving Spanish and North African inspired tapas.
There is of course a slight personal bias here. Tapas with Moorish influences are one of my favourite things to eat. I had as many meals as my paycheck would allow in Morito, my local tapas place in London and was never once bored. La Vara seems to have very much the same vibe. Slightly cramped, stylish and minimalist space? Lively bar? Located in quiet residential area beloved of the intelligentsia? A limited booking system that means you turn up an hour early and then get slightly tipsy in a local bar waiting for your table? Check, check, check, check.
A group of four, we arrived after a gruelling hour wait drinking possibly the best cocktails I’ve ever had at Red Gravy nearby and crumpled into our table at half nine on a Wednesday. The size of the portions and the size of the group meant we could sample a fairly good selection of the menu. We had about 2-3 tapas each, all shared, which was absolutely more than enough (I saw Yelpers complaining that the portions meant you needed to order about 8 each, I find this slightly terrifying). Some portions were larger than others, but most were of the traditional saucer sized variety.
There were a healthy amount of specials available, all explained and recommended by our friendly Spanish waitress and we tried a few of these. Steamed ramps appeared in a brown paper bag we had to cut open, accompanied by a rich romesco sauce, the American take on the traditional Catalan calçot dish. Migas (of the Spanish, not tex mex variety) were a deliciously morish and large plate of crispy fried Chorizo, breadcrumbs and caramelized onions. I decided against ordering the berenjenas con miel, fried aubergines with cheese and honey, after an underwhelming experience with the same in Morito. When my Dad ordered them, I demolished them. The aubergine had been peeled and sliced into batons, the sauce, a mix of manchego and a creamy Mozzarella like cheese whose name escapes me, was the perfect blend of sweet, tangy and creamy.
Each dish that came out seemed better than the last. Alcachofa, fried artichokes with anchovy aioli were just the right mix of crispy and melting, the aioli having enough anchovy to give it a bite without being so much as to put off someone like me who doesn’t really like them. The cordero, cumin roasted lamb, tasted like a confit, with an addictive zingy preserved lemon and date condiment. Pan amb tomaca, the traditional tomato bread had a twist of mojama (air cured tuna) and nori. Escalavida, a traditional vegetable stew was paired with a light tahini sauce, an unusual take that combined richness with the fresh, lush taste of the vegetables. The croquettas were the only unremarkable dish of the night, being absolutely fine, but not amazing or a patch on those at Morito.
We finished off, although by now thoroughly full, with two desserts. Olive oil ice-cream with sea salt tasted exactly like its ingredients, in the best possible way, though was not to my taste to be honest. The other dessert, a special, involved an elegant and light black sesame macaron and many other things I can’t remember.
While the prices range from low to high, the bill for all the food with wine and sherry for four people came to a pretty reasonable (by New York standards) $230 which is worth noting as many reviews said you’d need to spend at least 100 a head to manage here. We spent the rest of our time in New York deliberating whether to return but never did. There is a danger of attempting to recreate the amazing experience of the first time trying something wonderful on holiday which can never really be repeated. But if I lived in Brooklyn, I would come here as often as my paycheck allowed.
La Vara, 268 Clinton St Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States